Thursday, June 28, 2012

How district and charter compact leaders advocated for Connecticut’s Education Reform Bill

In January 2012, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy introduced a bold education reform campaign targeting Connecticut’s persistent achievement gap—the worst in the nation. Malloy’s campaign, entitled “2012, The Year for Education Reform,” called for increasing access to high-quality schooling models and “removing red tape and other barriers to success.” The resulting legislation that Malloy signed in May was the culmination of three months of advocacy from district leaders, heads of charter management organizations, advocacy organizations, state board officials, nonprofit organizations, families and students, and the governor himself.

After considerable pushback and several concessions, the newly signed education reform legislation includes several key provisions to promote district-charter collaboration:

  • Increased per-pupil funding for charter schools, dramatically shrinking the funding gap between charter and district schools.
  • Established the state’s authority to turnaround 25 chronically low-performing schools, 6 of which can become charter schools. The state has already started working with a high-performing charter network, Jumoke Academy, to turnaround the state’s lowest-performing elementary school, located in Hartford (see more about the turnaround effort).
  • Included other major provisions, such as more publicly funded pre-school seats, increasing the frequency of teacher evaluations, and linking tenure to evaluations in pilot districts.

Hartford Public Schools’ (HPS) Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto actively promoted the district’s legislative priorities, which aligned with several of the agreements in their district-charter collaboration compact. District priorities included allowing state-authorized charter schools to “affiliate” with districts opening the door for equitable funding, coordinated enrollment, consistent tracking of student achievement data and adding charter schools as an option to turn around the lowest-performing schools.

Here are examples from HPS’ advocacy work:

Here’s how district officials described some lessons from the successful passage of Connecticut’s education reform legislation:

  • Strong working relationships between district and charter leaders help establish shared legislative priorities. In Hartford, the superintendent communicates with the heads of charter management organizations on a weekly basis.
  • When district leaders publicly establish charters as part of their portfolio of schools, it provides an added incentive to advocate for favorable treatment of charter schools in state legislation.
  • An urban superintendent can impact legislative debates, but he or she must be willing to pro-actively engage the governor, state board, legislators, and the public. Dr. Kishimoto took a strong and public stance in an open letter to the Governor advocating state level reforms (see letter above). She also successfully campaigned to have a long-struggling HPS school on the list for state enforced turnaround under the new legislation.
  • High-performing charter leaders must advocate for themselves. Multiple voices are needed for effective and sustainable reform. (See Testimony of Dr. Michael Sharpe, Connecticut Charter School Network, CEO of Jumoke Academy Charter Schools, 2012.)
  • When publically available and accessible, school performance and demographics data for all schools, district and charter, can spur legislation and strengthen the case for reform.
  • Legislators need to hear directly from families and students, including those benefiting from high-performing charters and those in low-performing schools that want better options. The district can support families and students willing to come forward by accompanying them to press conferences, meetings, and legislative hearings.
    Legislators representing communities most affected by the changes must be willing to advocate for their constituents. In Hartford, the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus took a strong position throughout negotiations (see Testimony of State Representative Kelvin Roldán, February 21, 2012).
  • State legislation not only helps sustain reform locally, but the changing conditions and national attention can also serve to attract new partners from across the country.

On May 29, 2012, Secretary Arne Duncan praised the enacted legislation during his announcement that Connecticut and seven other states received waivers from the No Child Left Behind law.